Dear PoPville – Has Anyone Had Success Dealing with a Neighbors Overgrown Back Yard?

Dear PoPville,

Our neighbor’s yard is completely overgrown with weeds and is now so bad it’s growing into our back yard as well. We are back there a lot with our dogs and to grill. The mosquitos and bugs are horrible and we’ve seen several opossums which we’re afraid will hurt our dogs. Our neighbor is an elderly lady with in house nurses and she rents out the basement and I believe some rooms to family/friends. Is it illegal to have a small forest in your back yard? What can we do to encourage her to take care of it?

Please note there is a car parked in their back yard that you can’t even see it’s so bad. Any suggestions are welcome.

You can read about DCRA’s seasonal grass-cutting rules here. Has anyone successfully dealt with a similar situation?

54 Comment

  • Since she is an old lady who needs in home assistance, we not do the neighborly thing and offer to clear out the weeds rather than research legalities?

  • call the DCRA, they’ll take care of it

    • oops, i didnt read that she was elderly, yeah you’ll have to do it yourself.

    • Yeah, if you snitch to DCRA, it’s at least a $500 fine. To an old lady, who’s probably on a fixed income. At the worst, I’d just hire a neighborhood kid to do it for $30.

  • Have you spoken to her about it? Since she sounds not well, she might see what is growing in her backyard.

    Is there a fence between your yards? If they don’t want to clean it up, you might want to put a fence between the two yards.

  • This seems like a classic case of someone writing to PoP when what they really need to do is go knock on their neighbor’s door and address the issue directly.

    • I agree. Grow a pair and go talk to the lady.

      • I agree; see if you can speak with her or a family member/tenant. You could offer to assist with the trimming on your side; perhaps offer to call for the trash pick-up, etc. Only after that should you consider the other stuff!

  • Yeah, I had a very similar situation. Elderly neighbor, had her year up to waist-high. So, I just went next door and chatted with her. She’s old and on a fixed income, so I mowed her lawn for her the next time I did mine. She was really appreciative, and it made me feel good..

  • If it’s on your property, can’t you take a whack at it?

  • Have read all the posts so far. Everything from whack it yourself, call DCRA, help the lady. It just seems so obvious – if you’re able to help out, then help out. Talk to her if you can. Agree with Petworthian above. If it all works out, you’ll feel great.

  • And this is why PoP gets lampooned so often :p

  • I’ll echo the suggestions from many others. Given your description of her age and condition, start by talking to her about it and consider offering to take out the forest for her. I have an elderly neighbor and I take care of his yard for him. After the initial clear-out, the ongoing maintenance won’t require much time/energy on your part. Aside from simply being a nice thing to do, my care for my neighbor’s yard has gained me an immeasurable amount of goodwill in the neighborhood. Others will notice and appreciate what you’re doing. As a newcomer of a very different demographic than most of my neighbors, it’s the little things like caring for my neighbors yard, shoveling snow off his walks, carrying in groceries, etc., that have likely contributed to the whole block welcoming me with open arms. Also, I have elderly parents up in Pennsylvania who aren’t able to properly care for their yard . . . but a neighbor across the street from them insists on doing it for them, without compensation. What goes around, comes around . . . karma bank deposit.

  • “Is it illegal to have a small forest in your back yard?” Seriously? Why do so many of the quality of life posts ask if something is legal or not? Are you going to take the lady to court? Follow the good advice of the posters above and talk to the lady and see what can be done.

  • I concur with what others have said. But try to recruit other neighbors to help. That way you approach the situation from a different angle. i.e. A neighbor needs help, rather than just making it a 1on1 transaction.

  • I once had to tell this woman I was dating she had a hairy backside. It’s a slightly similar concern . . . .

  • I deal with this each year. My “neighbor” is 90 and no longer lives in the home. Her fence is locked so I can’t cut it myself. During one of her occasional visits to the house with her 70+ year old daughter, I got her daughter’s number and email address. Despite speaking to the daughter, it got bad this year because the her brothers didn’t visit regularly like they had in the past. While I waited for them to mow, I sprayed as much RoundUp as possible over the fence.

    If you can’t get a hold of one of the home’s residents or into the yard yourself, DCRA is your only choice.

  • I’ll just add that you should also help out in the winter with shoveling her walk. People do that for older neighbors on my street, it’s a nice gesture.

  • You can absolutely get DCRA to issue a citation for a back yard in the condition like the one in the photo (I’ve done it myself); however, it can take a long time. In my case, the non-resident landlord is perfectly capable of maintaining the yard; she’s just lazy. That being said, involving DCRA will probably only get you one yard clean-up/mowing, and you’ll have to go through the process again when it’s regrown. In the end, I just asked my neighbor if she’d mind if I cut things down every now and again–she agreed. Sure, it’s not really fair that she’s getting a free pass, but it’s 10x easier to just deal with it myself. Given your neighbor is elderly, I’m sure she’d be happy to let you help her out. I view this the same way I view picking up litter…I never litter, but clean up my block every few weeks. It’s annoying, but it makes me happy when it’s done.

  • OP here- I appreciate your advice but I guess I didn’t add all the facts. I have talked to them, several times and they have done nothing. She has her son who is in his 40s and two other men living with her who are renting and no one will clean it up.
    It’s not grass, these are serious weeds- a landscaper we had out to look at our yard said they were weeds that turned into trees- which will take a lot more than a mower to cut down- I think it may need a chainsaw. I do not have any of these tools myself. There is a fence between our houses but because of the overgrowth, you can’t see it anymore.
    I will talk to the other neighbors and see what we can do. Have a good weekend everyone.

    • OP, you have my sympathy. While the elderly woman personally cannot deal with the apparent forest of weeds in her yard, her sons should be taking care of this. This is the neighborly, civilized thing to do when you live among others. If it was a simple grass cutting, I would say you could do it and consider it charity work. But this sounds like it is well beyond that. Also, there is something maddening about having to volunteer to do yard work for a family that has able-bodied men, who could do it themselves or hire the right people. The moment you start doing their yard is the moment you start enabling them. Unfortunately, it sounds like they are fine with the status quo, and you rightfully are not. Tough situation all around, and I’m not sure what the answer is here, short of involving DCRA.

      • except for the fact that it’s ON HER PROPERTY. how big can the “forest” be? do what you can, with what you have, where you are… go cut it down yourself if it’s that bad… this is so annoying.

        • From the photo it’s clear that several of those weeds are Ailanthus (sometimes known as “ghetto palm”), which is one of the most notoriously weedy & fast-growing trees in the city. Aside from shading everything out, ailanthus will sprout aggressively from root suckers quite some distance from the “mother” tree (and will continue to sprout even after it is cut down). Every ailanthus sprout is not only a weed and a nuisance, but a potential tree that can get very large very fast. The “forest” may not be big now but it will get there in just two or three years.

          • Thanks for this info. I’ve got some neighbors across the alley who have an ailanthus “tree” growing in the very narrow space between their fence and their next-door neighbors’ fence.

            I was going to try offering to cut it down (well, the part I could reach) with a smallish lopper, but I see from an anonymous post below that if I do that, it’s likely to grow back bushier than before.

            Any thoughts on what to do? Should I see if the neighbors are willing to temporarily take off one of the planks of their fence so I can get access to the bottom of the “tree”?

    • OP, sorry to learn that the situation is more complicated than the original post indicated.

      It’s unfortunate that the son and male renters don’t feel any need to keep the yard in check… but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to change.

      I think your best option is to seek their permission to work on the yard yourself. Granted, you don’t have a chainsaw, but with a heavy-duty clipper, you should be able to cut down weed-trees as long as their trunks are still fairly small. Yes, you shouldn’t HAVE to do it, but it sounds like it’s not going to get done unless you do it.

      If they won’t give you permission to take care of their back yard, then call DCRA. But try the DIY route first.

    • Cleaning up the yard would be a favor you are doing for HER. It doesn’t matter who else is in the house. Trust,…once you get out there working, the “men” in the house will show-up with either excuses (being shamed) or they will help. This is a good opportunity to: BE the change you wish to see in the ‘hood!

      • they won’t show up embarrassed at all. i see this play out all the time.
        just help out the lady, just cuz it’s the right thing to do.

    • From your photo, it looks like those weeds that became trees are ailanthus…an invasive plant very common to DC, and easy-peasy to remove. You don’t need a chainsaw to take them down, just a tree trimmer saw…maybe even a lopper if the trunk is less than 2″ diameter. But you have to also get the roots out or it will regrow, bushier than before.

  • If there’s a car and god knows what else under that mess, I’d just clip right along the fence on my side and leave the rest. The view, especially of a dead car, may be worse than the jungle. Unless there’s standing water in there it’s probably not much of a haven for mosquitos and possums don’t do any real harm.

  • We had a similar situation to what may be going on here, and it may not be as easy as people think. Our neighbor is very old and can no longer really communicate, and others who come and go from the house are generally not friendly or receptive to “help.” You can cut down the weeds on your side of the property line, but there’s really nothing you can do on their side (unless they are open to it). Good luck!

  • Seems to me that this is nothing an accidental salt spill can’t fix…heck the Romans did the same and Catharge never grew back 😉

  • At first I thought this was my neighbors reporting me…

  • If you have already talked to her and there are no results, it is time to report the old bag to DCRA.

  • I think you can get Napalm at your local ACE

  • bfinpetworth

    I’m going to add my two cents about those weed/trees. While they are merely an eyesore right now, they become a serious nuisance to your property when the become full-grown “trees”. They create a terrible mess in the fall with their odd foliage that will litter you lawn, ruin your gutters, and drop millions of seeds on your lawn. DO NOT allow those weeds to become trees. Once that happens, common law comes into play and noone in the city will touch them or force the neighbor to have them cut down. I had two next door to me that were at least 50 feet tall and they caused me sleepless nights and many angry emails to the city. It was only when the property was sold and the developer removed them that we were relieved of this nuisance. And now we are relegated to pulling baby trees out of our lawn every week.

    So go rent a chainsaw or whatever else it takes and get those trees out of there.

    Also, if the car is nonfunctioning and without current decals, the city will issue a citation and eventually have dpw tow the abandoned vehicle away. It takes time and effort on your part but it eventually happens.

    To all the posters calling for compassion, this is a case by case evaluation. I do care for my neighbor’s yard that just doesn’t have the proper equipment to do so. But a completely abandoned or neglected situation may call for more aggressive efforts.

    Good luck!

  • This woman is elderly with in house care? Obviously she is unable or too incoherent to trek outside to hack down the weeds herself. Take the time to be neighborly and walk over and offer to have a landscaping company tackle her yard. For $250 you can be rid of your problem and consider making her yard look as nice as yours. This us the problem with us as a community, we only care about ourselves and not what is going around right under our nose.

    If she us unresponsive or rude about it then consider calling the city, but she could be ill or financially incapable to making her yard picture perfect for HGTV for you.

  • … um, have you asked her?

    • Next time, you might want to read the whole thread before posting.

      HL (the OP) posted partway through the thread: “OP here- I appreciate your advice but I guess I didn’t add all the facts. I have talked to them, several times and they have done nothing. She has her son who is in his 40s and two other men living with her who are renting and no one will clean it up.”

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